Monday, February 28, 2011

Distracted Thought...Or Devastatingly Brilliant One?

I teach meditation to a lot of artists, writers, comics, actors.  So I'm often asked what to do if, when you sit to meditate, creative ideas come forward.  Do you treat them as monkey mind and get back to meditating?  Do you sacrifice your day's meditation for the creative flow of ideas?  Do you set the ideas aside, trusting they'll be back later?  Just let them float by and label them as "thoughts"?  Or, in this case, brilliant, creative, innovative, the-world-must-know-of-this thoughts?

 A meditation practice opens you up to your creativity in a way that is astounding.  When we still our mind on a regular basis and "empty out", we then become a channel for inspiration to fill us up on a regular basis.  Suddenly we know exactly what to do with all those thoughts that seem to overflow in our minds.  It's like our mind is a closet that gets a makeover: because we've created some space, we now know just what to do with everything.  Many thoughts we let go of, like a purge to the Goodwill for unwanted thoughts.  Others are seen in a new light and appreciated.  And of course there is now space for new, amazing thoughts.  Except now, perhaps, we choose the thoughts that we let hang around in our closet more wisely.

When I create my most weird and fun and authentic and smart material as a comedian, I've usually meditated earlier.  And I notice my meditation practice gives me the discipline when I sit down to write, to actually write.  So when I sit down to meditate, I meditate.  Well, most of the time. 

Whenever we sit to meditate, the intention is to meditate.  But sometimes, creativity will come forward as soon as we get a little quiet and we may be inspired to get up and have a
creativity/writing/brainstorming session instead of a meditation session.

This is really the practitioner's call. The mind will always find something to take us away from our meditation, something more "important" (the dishes we have to do, that call we need to make, the worries that parade through our mind) and sometimes it can take the form of something noble like a "brilliant idea".

If it's a trickle of creative ideas, trust that they will be there when you finish your sit.  Keep letting them pass by like clouds and bring yourself back to the object of your meditation.  Chances are, if they're worth it, they will be clear and calling to you after the sit.  Really.

Let’s say the ideas are not a trickle but a stream. If you have a strong practice and know the difference between the monkey mind throwing poop at you and true inspiration, open your eyes and jot down some notes.  Keep a pad of paper (I do!) next to your meditation area and with discipline, open your eyes, jot down your notes and then set them aside.  Just as we set aside thoughts when we do certain concentration based meditations, do the same here.

If the creative thoughts are a flood, then perhaps you must get up and devote yourself fully to a creativity session rather than a meditation session.  Let it out!  Let it flow!  Enjoy it!

And then have the discipline to sit back down afterward and actually meditate.  Otherwise your monkey mind will begin to convince you each day, as you sit to meditate, that you have a new brilliant idea that must be attended to immediately.  Or that you MUST get up and Google yourself.  Or finish rearranging your underwear drawer.  And if you get in the habit of always interrupting your meditation session, you won't get very far in your practice.  You may get far in the screenplay and that's great!  But after you honor your flood of creativity and those re-writes on the third act you just immersed yourself in...sit back down before the day is through!  Balance, baby, balance.  And Googling yourself is never as fascinating as you think it's going to be.

Building a meditation practice that works with your creativity, your schedule, your temperament and your style is worth it.  It takes some determination and discipline, but once you're in the zone, it'll inform everything you do in your life.  And it'll be a large part of the reason you're having incredible creative downloads in the first place! (OK, now you can go Google yourself.  You know you want to.)


  1. Thanks for reminding me that meditation is a cleaning house of sorts. I forget how important it is to unwind and order to fill er up again. It's also cool that in doing nothing, we can be creatively stimulated -I've often believed genius comes from working hard... Me thinks today I'll relax and clean out the over-stuffed mental closet!

  2. Absolutely! The Buddha said one of our problems is our addiction to form, ie to "filling up" and doing and stuffing our world with stuff, be it things or thoughts...or identities. Emptying out creates so much space. Meditation gets us comfortable with emptiness and that's where brilliant form can come in to being and then get birthed!

  3. In my many years of meditating I can count on one hand the times I got up from sitting to work on a creative idea (that was when it was a huge "download" like a crucial waterfall! I will try out the pad of paper thing and see how it works. Im not sure how I feel about it because I am a list person and it could become a distraction. I definitely see by what you are saying the purpose of "writing it down" so that you can return to the object and let it go till after the sit.